In a book I read recently about the Findhorn Community, I came across a passage about children and the spiritual life. The passage referred to parenthood as a spiritual path which is seldom recognised as such. All too often, children are regarded as a nuisance and an interference because they demand so much. This is what spiritual life is, learning to give everything.
The words struck home to me forcibly because they described so aptly my own reaction to child rearing. Having embarked on the spiritual path, I began to regard my children primarily as dissipaters of my energy, distracting me from what I 'should be doing'. More often than not they even interrupted my daily yoga practice! By the time I read the Findhorn book, I had begun to understand that the children are not interrupting my sadhana - they are my sadhana. If I can remain centred through the daily obstacle course my children provide, and in spite of their incessant demands, then I can cope with just about anything!
This, for me, is the essence of spiritual life: to remain centred, no matter what happens, and to develop the ability to live completely in the moment, giving full attention to whatever I am doing. If others need my attention, then I must learn to give that attention fully and with love, even if their needs interrupt some 'pet project' of my own.
Further, there is so much to learn from children. Their behaviour and their reaction to me is a mirror in which I can see myself, if I have the courage to look. For a long time I found it puzzling, as well as frustrating, that the children were always crotchety and difficult on days when I felt least like coping with their tantrums. We had our 'off' days together. Slowly, I came to understand that the children were simply sending back to me what I was sending them. Obvious, perhaps, but intellectual acceptance of the fact is a far cry from true understanding through experience. Now that I have learned to see myself in their behaviour, and to act accordingly, life is much more pleasant for us all.
Like any relationship, that between parent and child works both ways. I know only too well how I react to my children and I am beginning to understand the depth and potential of the mother-child relationship. But what am I doing to them? How does my behaviour and example affect them?
As I look around at other parents and the way that they interact with their children, it becomes clear how an open, carefree, outgoing child becomes a reticent, tense and even unhealthy adult. The process of, conditioning to which most parents subject their children is very apparent. What is worse is that the vast majority of parents are completely unaware that they are conditioning their children, themselves being products of the same process.
Small children are very open, relatively unconditioned and totally involved in the circumstances in which they find themselves. They have, as yet, no discrimination and their ability to separate themselves from the atmosphere created by others is not yet developed. This means that they will react or respond automatically to the prevailing atmosphere around them; they are loving in a loving home, tense in a tense home, aggressive and even violent in a home where these attitudes are strong.
The responsibility of parents is, therefore, very great. We must first understand what are the duties of parenthood. As I see it, my primary function as a parent is to allow the children in my care to grow up with as little conditioning as possible. In order to survive and interact in a particular society, some conditioning is necessary, but the child must be made aware that the behaviour expected in that society is the result, ultimately, of conditioning. No social customs are absolute truths, as some would have us believe.
If my children reach adulthood with their openness, spontaneity and ability to love and give unimpaired, then they are on the right road to achieving their full potential as human beings. Whether they work to achieve that potential is their decision - I can only ensure that their upbringing hampers them in the task as little as possible.
Whilst giving my children all the love they need, it is vital that love be tempered with truth. Loving does not mean giving a child everything it wants or asks for- materially or otherwise. It is necessary to develop discrimination so that what I give them meets their needs, yet allows them to grow strong and independent.
Here lies one of the traps of parenthood, particularly for a mother. She becomes so used to giving to her children and caring for them, that she forgets that they are not, in reality, her own children but merely children who have been in her care for a while. Giving and caring become needs for such a mother and she cannot let her children go when they reach adulthood. She wishes to have them remain with her so she can continue to be needed and useful. For my own part, I believe that if I approach child rearing with the attitude that I am teaching my children how to be strong enough to leave home and be independent, then at least I will not delude myself that they will always need me. This way, I will be prepared for the inevitable separation, however painful it may be, when the time comes.
Parenthood is a complete and exacting sadhana, perhaps the hardest part of which is accepting it as a spiritual path in the first place. As long as I can remain open, however, I know that God or guru will keep me to my path, no matter how often I stumble.